Country singer and songwriter Loretta Lynn grew up in the remote, poverty-stricken town of Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. Named after Loretta Young, Lynn didn't do much singing in her early youth. Instead, after one month of dating, she was married at age 13 to Mooney (Moonshine) Lynn (he was 19), who took her 3,000 miles away to Custer, Washington, where he worked in logging camps. Lynn became a mother at 14 and had four children in her first four years of marriage; she was a grandmother at 29. Besides taking care of the kids, taking in other people's laundry, and occasionally making extra money by picking strawberries with migrant workers, Lynn began writing songs on her Sears Roebuck guitar. Her husband encouraged her to go public and became her manager, lining up shows at local bars and clubs. At age 27 Lynn cut a record for the California Zero label, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," which she and Mooney promoted themselves by visiting radio stations around the country. They worked their way to Nashville, and the song eventually became a #14 hit on the C&W national chart.
Once in Nashville, Lynn persuaded Ott Devine, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, to book her, and she first appeared there in October 1960. An appearance with Buck Owens led to a contract with Decca, for whom she's made more than 50 records over a period of 30 years. Her first Decca hit, produced by Owen Bradley in 1962, was called "Success" (#6 C&W). Since then she has had 16 #1 C&W hits, including the standards, "Don't Come Home a' Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)" (1966), "Fist City" (1968), "Woman of the World (Leave My World Alone)" (1969), and the autobiographical "Coal Miner's Daughter" (1970). Also in 1970 she began touring regularly with Conway Twitty, with whom she had a number of #1 C&W hits, including 1971's "After the Fire Is Gone" and "Lead Me On," followed by "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" (1973), "As Soon As I Hang Up the Phone" (1974), and "Feelins'" (1975). Lynn was the first woman to win the Entertainer of the Year Award from the Country Music Association, in 1972. Her self-penned controversial hit "The Pill" (#70 pop, #5 C&W, 1975) was seen by some as a down-home feminist classic, while "One's on the Way" (#1 C&W, 1971) celebrated motherhood.
Her later hits included the C&W #1 singles "Rated 'X'" (1972), "Love Is the Foundation" (1973), "Trouble in Paradise" (1974), "Somebody Somewhere (Don't Know What He's Missin' Tonight)" (1976), "She's Got You" (1977), "Out of My Head and Back in My Bed" (1977), as well as other C&W Top 20 hits, such as "When the Tingle Becomes a Chill" (1975), "We've Come a Long Way, Baby," "I Can't Feel You Anymore" (1979), and "I Lie" (1982).
In 1976 Lynn (with New York Times reporter George Vecsey) wrote her autobiography, Coal Miner's Daughter, and it became one of the 10 biggest-selling books of that year. In 1980 a movie based on Lynn's autobiography and starring Sissy Spacek came out, to much acclaim. (Spacek, who sang Lynn's songs in the film, won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance.) Lynn herself has dabbled in acting, making guest appearances on Fantasy Island and The Dukes of Hazzard, as well as The Muppet Show.
Although Lynn's recording career slowed to a halt in the late '80s (1988's Who Was That Stranger would be her last solo album for a dozen years), she remained one of country music's most popular and well-loved stars. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and presented with the Pioneer Award at the 1995 Academy of Country Music Awards. Honky Tonk Girl: The Loretta Lynn Collection, a career-spanning three-disc box set, was released in 1994. She joined Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette to record 1993's Honky Tonk Angels album, but she spent much of the first half of the '90s nursing her ailing husband, Mooney, who passed away in 1996 from diabetes complications. They had been married 48 years. In September 2000, her 40th anniversary as a performer, Lynn returned with the Randy Scruggs–produced Still Country on the independent Audium label. The album featured two new songs of her own, including her tribute to Mooney, "I Can't Hear the Music."
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies